Wednesday within the Octave of Corpus Christi
On Monday, June 5, The Pillar reported that Archbishop Joseph Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City had written a letter revealing that Mass offered in his diocese had been offered invalidly for “any number of years.”
Naumann explained that “two priests, having served in three different parishes… discovered the long-term use of wines that were in fact invalid matter for the confection of the Eucharist.” By Naumann’s description of how the priests were assigned to the three parishes, it seems that the two priests were assigned to a family of parishes.
In addition, the local ordinary said: “For any number of years all Masses were invalid and therefore the intentions for which those Masses were offered were not satisfied, including the obligation pastors have to offer Mass for the people.”
It is not known how long the invalid matter was used, and if it has been used in other parishes in the diocese. However, it is reasonable to assume that including daily Masses, more than a thousand invalid consecrations have taken place in those settings.
In fairness to the Kansas City Archbishop, we cannot say that it is his fault that this has happened, as it is normally the responsibility of the parish to acquire the necessary materials for Sacraments. Furthermore, we should commend Naumann for being so honest, given the fact that this revelation represents a grave stain on the reputation of his diocese.
Father John Zuhlsdorf [Father Z] wrote a blog post commenting on the matter with a citation from Redemptionis Sacramentum that stipulates what is necessary for valid sacramental confection: “…Wine that is used in the most sacred celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice must be natural, from the fruit of the grape, pure and incorrupt, not mixed with other substances… It is altogether forbidden to use wine of doubtful authenticity or provenance, for the Church requires certainty regarding the conditions necessary for the validity of the sacraments. Nor are other drinks of any kind to be admitted for any reason, as they do not constitute valid matter.”
Among other things, Father Z explained that as long as the wine is between 5 and 18% in alcohol content and no monkey business takes place during the fermentation process, then pretty much any wine will do. It is not necessary for the wine to be expensive or of a particular grape. It is only necessary that it be pure wine and that the wine not be spoiled, as spoiled wine is not wine, but technically vinegar or at least the early stages of vinegar.
There are vintners known for the production of sacramental wine, but technically speaking, a priest could use “any old wine” from the liquor store, as long as he was certain of the ingredients and percentage and the freshness of the wine.
All of this is to say that it really shouldn’t be that hard for priests to ensure they are using a valid wine, but here we are.
Given the recent revelation from KC, we must be willing to consider that this problem of invalid Masses extends far beyond the American heartland.
Recently I interviewed Father Charles Murr, and he told me that he was actually happy to see the news. He was of course not happy to know of the grave liturgical abuse, but was elated that after years of this sort of thing happening all over the world, a bishop finally said something publicly about it.
He told me that when he used to travel as a priest, he would always bring his own wine with him to celebrate Mass in other parishes because it was so common to find invalid matter. In addition, he recounted a story of how one of his brother priests had been using water instead of wine for the “consecration” of the Precious Blood. The priest’s reasoning was that he had an alcohol problem and wanted to stay on the wagon. Whatever his reasoning, Father Murr confronted that priest and reported him.
Father Murr explained that what he recounted to me in the interview only accounts for a handful of the things he saw over the years. If we consider the fact that Murr is merely one priest out of hundreds of thousands around the world, it is horrifying to think of how many other stories could be told.
As shocking as all this may seem, we were warned about this.
In Open Letter to Confused Catholics, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre wrote the following: “Then, from being puzzled Catholics you become worried Catholics: is the Mass at which you have assisted valid? Is the host you have received truly the Body of Christ? It is a grave problem. How can the ordinary faithful decide?… The present-day training of those who are called seminarians does not prepare them to accomplish valid masses.”
Some have taken issue with Lefebvre’s statements on the validity of Masses as they believe he presented a simplistic view of sacramental theology. It is believed by some that Lefebvre conflated the rampant sacrilege and heresy with a defect in intention. However, I believe this is the incorrect way to look at Archbishop Lefebvre’s opinion in this case.
In this age that is supposedly supposed to be “pastoral,” we clearly find that what is pastoral is usually lacking. In fact, the word pastoral has become a catch-all phrase that excuses all sorts of insufficient or even counterintuitive behaviour on behalf of priests and bishops. But, we can say with certainty that Lefebvre was truly pastoral, in that he cared for nothing but to pastor the sheep and protect them from the wolves.
When we understand his modus operandi, then we can better understand what he meant.
When he said “the present-day training of those who are called seminarians does not prepare them to accomplish valid masses,” he meant just that. He plainly meant that priests were being trained so poorly that they were not prepared to accomplish valid Masses.
It could be that priests are simply ignorant of the specifics of what is necessary for sacramental wine, or it could be that they are taught something completely heterodox. Or, it could be that they were taught the correct doctrine, but were formed in such a faithless environment that they simply do not care, and after a while, they become so lax in their practice that they use invalid matter.
When we understand Lefebvre’s words from that perspective and through the lens of what has been revealed in Kansas, we can more easily understand what the founder of the SSPX meant when he wrote: “It is obvious that there are fewer and fewer valid Masses as the faith of priests becomes corrupted and they no longer have the intention to do what the Church – which cannot change her intention – has always done” (Ibid.).
Again, it is not the case that a lack of supernatural faith would make a sacrament invalid, but it is the case that faithless priests would do faithless things, like using water instead of wine, or blush wine that was fermented with a load of sugar. Simply put, a priest who simply doesn’t care, stops intending to do priestly things the way the Church intends him to do things. And, a priest who simply doesn’t know, may have personally good intentions, but his intentions fail when he uses the wrong matter.
Lefebvre wrote the aforementioned statements in the 1980’s, and what he saw or heard of is evidently still happening today… Imagine how grave the problem must be, and has been, for decades.
There may be grown Catholic adults out there who have never received a valid Holy Communion.
Pray for the priests that have done this to the faithful.
 Redemptionis Sacramentum is the most recent document from Rome (2004) which explains in detail what is necessary for the valid celebration of Mass.
Kennedy Hall is a contributing editor for OnePeterFive. He is the author Terror of Demons: Reclaiming Traditional Catholic Masculinity and Lockdown with the Devil, a novel published by Our Lady of Victory Press. He is a writer at Catholic Family News, LifeSiteNews and is the host of the Conservative talk-radio show, The Kennedy Report. He is married with four children and lives in Ontario, Canada.